MPLS vs VLAN: A Comprehensive Comparison

Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) and Virtual Local Area Network (VLAN) are two innovative network technologies that have revolutionized the way data is routed within network circuits. Most people are constantly seeking to understand these technologies, their unique features, and how they stack up against each other to determine which one best meets their demands.
This article provides an overview of Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) and Virtual Local Area Network (VLAN), explaining their core concepts and benefits.

 It’s important to note that MPLS and VLAN serve different purposes and should not be directly compared. Instead, VLANs can be used within an MPLS network for traffic forwarding.

What is MPLS?

Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) is a layer 2.5 networking protocol of the OSI model that uses label to enhance the routing and forwarding of data packets across a network.
Layer 2 carries IP packets over simple LANs or point-to-point WANs, while layer 3 uses internet-wide addressing and routing using IP protocols. MPLS  operates at the center of the two(layer 2.5), with additional features for data transport across the network.

Here is how MPLS works:

When a packet enters a network through an Ingress node, which acts as a label edge router, it undergoes a process of classification known as Forwarding Equivalent Class (FEC) assignment. The assignment is based on the packet’s characteristics and intended destination.

Once the packet is assigned an FEC, the label edge router attaches a label to the packet and encapsulates it within a Label Switched Path (LSP). This LSP serves as a designated path for the packet to travel through the network.
As the packet travels through the network, passing through various transit nodes that are equipped with Label Switch Routers (LSRs), it is directed based on the instructions encoded within the packet’s label. These transit nodes, acting as intermediaries, utilize the label information to guide the packet’s journey, eliminating the need for additional IP lookups.

Upon reaching the egress node, which is the final router along the LSP, the label is stripped off, and the packet is delivered through normal IP routing mechanisms, reaching its intended destination. This process ensures the efficient and expedited routing of packets within the network.

With the help of these label routing mechanisms, MPLS facilitates faster data transmission, improved Quality of Service (QoS), and greater network scalability.

What is VLAN?

A VLAN (virtual local area network) is a logical network that groups host devices on one or more switches into subnets and uses one physical LAN interface to Isolate traffic for each subnet.

VLANs operate at the data link layer (Layer 2) of the OSI model, allowing network administrators to divide a single physical network into multiple isolated virtual networks. Each VLAN functions as a separate network entity with its own security policies, bandwidth allocation, and broadcast domain.

To create a vlan in a switch comprising multiple host devices, Access ports are configured and connected to a group of end devices recognized to be in different subnets. Furthermore, a VLAN can be configured on two switches by grouping some host devices on each switch into the same subnet and then connecting them virtually. This is achieved with the help of trunkport configuration.

MPLS Vs VLAN: What is the exact Difference?

While both MPLS and VLAN play a role in data routing within network circuits, they serve different purposes and offer unique functionalities. MPLS specializes in the efficient routing and forwarding of data packets within larger networks, whereas VLAN is a virtual grouping mechanism that segregates traffic within a local area network (LAN).

MPLS vs VLAN: Key Comparison

To gain a comprehensive understanding of MPLS and VLAN, it is good we compare them across various aspects. Let’s explore the key differences between these two technologies:

Aspect MPLSVLAN
SecurityEnhanced security through label-switching mechanismNetwork segmentation and isolation
SpeedHigh-speed data transmission for large networksFaster data transfer within a virtual network
QoSEfficient Quality of Service (QoS) implementationQoS capabilities within individual virtual networks
CoverageLarge-scale coverage and connectivityLocal area network (LAN) segmentation
CostAdditional costs for implementation and maintenanceCost-effective solution utilizing existing network infrastructure
Type of TechnologyLabel-switching technologyNetwork segmentation technique
OSI LayerNetwork layer (Layer 3)Data link layer (Layer 2)
Supported PlatformsWide range of routers and switchesEthernet switches and IEEE 802.1Q compliant routers
Traffic PrioritizationGranular traffic prioritization and optimizationTraffic prioritization within individual virtual networks
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1. Security

MPLS provides inherent security benefits due to its label-switching mechanism, making it difficult for unauthorized users to intercept or manipulate data packets.

On the other hand, VLANs offer network segmentation and isolation, ensuring that sensitive information remains within specific virtual networks and inaccessible to unauthorized entities.

2. Speed

MPLS is very good at delivering high-speed data transmission, particularly for large enterprises with high amount of network traffic. With MPLS, ISPs can prioritize traffic and optimize network resources efficiently.

VLANs, on the other hand, prioritize traffic within individual virtual networks, providing faster data transfer between devices within the same VLAN.

3. Quality of Service (QoS)

MPLS enables ISPs to prioritize traffic based on the type of application or service, ensuring better QoS for critical data.

VLANs also offer QoS capabilities within individual virtual networks, allowing administrators to allocate bandwidth according to specific requirements.

4. Coverage and Scalability

MPLS networks can span large geographical areas, making them ideal for ISPs with extensive coverage requirements. Also, MPLS networks can connect multiple sites, offering a scalable solution for expanding businesses.

VLANs, on the other hand, operate within a local area network (LAN) and are primarily used for network segmentation within a single physical location.

5. Cost

MPLS is a comprehensive solution that often involves additional costs, as ISPs need to establish and maintain MPLS networks within their infrastructure.

VLANs, on the other hand, are more cost-effective, as they utilize existing network equipment and require minimal additional investment.

6. Type of Technology

MPLS is a label-switching technology that enhances the efficiency of routing and forwarding data packets.

VLANs, on the other hand, are a network segmentation technique that allows for the creation of multiple isolated virtual networks within a single physical network.

7. OSI Layer

MPLS operates at the network layer (Layer 3) of the OSI model, while VLANs function at the data link layer (Layer 2).

8. Supported Platforms

MPLS is supported by a wide range of routers and switches, making it a versatile technology for ISPs. VLANs are supported by Ethernet switches and routers that comply with the IEEE 802.1Q standard.

9. Traffic Prioritization

MPLS offers granular control over traffic prioritization. It allows ISPs to allocate bandwidth and ensure optimal performance for different types of data.

VLANs also enable traffic prioritization within individual virtual networks, ensuring efficient utilization of network resources.

MPLS vs VLAN: Use Cases & Scenarios

A. MPLS

MPLS find application mostly in the areas outlined below;

  1. Interconnecting multiple branches of an enterprise to create a secure and efficient wide-area network (WAN).
  2. Enabling high-quality video conferencing and real-time applications across geographically dispersed locations.
  3. Facilitating seamless communication between data centers and ensuring efficient data replication.
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B. VLAN

VLAN find application in each of the following scenarios;

  1. Creating separate virtual networks for different departments within an organization to enhance network security and isolation.
  2. Enabling Voice over IP (VoIP) and IP telephony services while segregating voice traffic from other data traffic.
  3. Providing guest network access within a larger network while maintaining separation from the internal infrastructure.

Can MPLS be Used with VLAN?

Yes, it is possible to use MPLS with VLAN. By integrating MPLS and VLAN technologies, ISPs create hybrid network solutions that leverage the benefits of both technologies. This integration allows for enhanced network segmentation, security, and traffic prioritization, while also leveraging MPLS for efficient routing and forwarding.

Other Recommendations: MPLS and VPN

In addition to MPLS, Virtual Private Network (VPN) technology closely aligns with the goals and requirements of network professionals and IT specialists. VPNs enable secure connections between clients and private networks over the public internet. By encrypting and encapsulating data packets, VPNs ensure the confidentiality and integrity of transmitted information.

Conclusion

MPLS and VLAN are powerful technologies that cater to different networking needs. While MPLS excels at enhancing routing efficiency and delivering fast data transmission across ISPs, VLANs provide network segmentation, security, and performance optimization within local networks.

With what we have covered in this post so far, you can make informed decisions on which to choose between MPLS and VLAN to build a robust and efficient network for your needs.

Moreover, the integration of MPLS and VLAN, along with the utilization of VPN technology, can further enhance your network’s performance, security, and flexibility.

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